Late surge pushes Mexico past Croatia, into the knockout round

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Late goals from Rafa Márquez, Andrés Guardado, and Javier Hernández have shattered Croatia’s World Cup dreams and sent Mexico into a sixth straight knockout round. With goals in the 72nd and 75th minutes, Márquez and Guardado blew open a previously scoreless match, while late insurance from ‘Chicharito’ Hernández helped clinch second place in Group A with a 3-1 win in Recife.

An hour of even play slowly started to sway Mexico’s way with chances in the 64th and 69th minutes. Eighteen minutes from time, Márquez finally put his team on the scoreboard, heading home a Héctor Herrera corner to make it 1-0. Three minutes later, Guardado’s blast from the left of the Croatian area doubled the lead, while Hernández finished a 82nd minute corner to provide further insurance. After Ivan Persic found 87th minute consolation, Mexico had their two-goal win.

Hoping to reach the quarterfinals for the first time in 28 years, Mexico moves on to the final 16, facing the Netherlands on Sunday in Fortaleza. Croatia, with one win in three matches, end their 2014 World Cup third in Group A.

[ MORE: Neymar lifts Brazil | Dutch down Chile | Spain conquers Socceroos ]
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Even play over the first 45 minutes saw Mexico nearly take the lead twice in the first 20 minutes. Off a long-range shot in the 16th minute, Herrera nailed the upper-left hand corner of Stipe Pletikosa’s goal, while a ball played behind Croatia’s defense three minutes later left Oribe Peralta sprawled in the penalty area after the Mexican forward slipped while turning onto a close-range shot.

Come the hour mark, Mexico began to upset the game’s balance. In the 64th minute, a Guardado shot from the left of the area drew handball appeals as it went off Darijo Srna’s arms and out for a corner. Five minutes later, Pletikosa kicked out at a Herrera cross to prevent a ball from bouncing across his six-yard box. Come the 70th minute, Mexico had firmly established itself on the front foot.

In the 72nd minute, that advantage finally paid off. Off a Herrera corner from the left, Márquez was found at the edge of the six-yard box. Heading down and into goal, the veteran defender celebrated his fourth finals as captain with a breakthrough score, giving Mexico a 1-0 lead.

Three minutes later, Croatia’s back was broken. Shooting from nearly the spot where Srna denied him 11 minutes before, Guardardo finished high into the left of Pletikosa’s net, providing what proved the game-winning goal.

In the 82nd minute, Hernández snuck in at the far post to put home a corner flicked on by Márquez – a goal that was pulled back minutes later by Perisic’s finish into Guillermo Ochoa’s lower-right hand corner. When Ante Rebic was red carded in the 89th minute, Croatia’s hopes of a comeback were done.  Mexico would advance with their two-goal victory.

It was the most impressive performance yet from a Mexican side that continues to overshadow its qualifying mishaps. When the team take sthe field on Sunday in Fortaleza, they’ll do so having only conceded one meaningless goal through three group stage matches.

Whether that defense will be able to hold off the Dutch remains to be seen, but after strong performances against Brazil and Croatia, there’s reason to believe Mexico can do damage in the knockout round.

Lineups

Croatia: Pletikosa; Srna, Corluka, Lovren, Vrsaljko (Kovacic 58′); Modric, Pranjic (Jelavic 74′); Perisic, Rakitic, Olic (Rebic 69′), Mandzukic

Goals: Perisic 87′

Mexico: Ochoa; Aguilar, Rodríguez, Marquez, Moreno, Layún; Vazquez, Herrera, Guardado (Fabián 84′); Dos Santos (Hernández 62′), Peralta (Peña 79′)

Goals: Márquez 72′, Guardado 75′, Hernández 82′

Mendy a doubt for start of Man City’s Premier League season

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High-flying left back Benjamin Mendy‘s Manchester City takeoff has been delayed by a thigh injury.

Pep Guardiola revealed Thursday that Mendy is doubtful for City’s Aug. 12 Premier League opener at Brighton and Hove Albion despite passing a medical to push through a $68 million move from Monaco.

Saying Mendy is “a little bit injured,” Guardiola said to expect an absence of two to three weeks.

[ MORE: LAFC hires Bob Bradley ]

The depth chart behind Mendy is incomplete, though City has added two right backs this offseason in Kyle Walker and Danilo.

The latter would be the front-runner to start in Mendy’s place, as he did in a 3-5-2 as Man City beat Real Madrid 4-1 on Wednesday.

Man City follows its opener at Brighton with a visit from Everton and a trip to Bournemouth.

Roma gives new 4-year deal to Premier League target Nainggolan

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Hard-nosed midfielder Rajda Nainggolan has been linked to Manchester United and Chelsea for some time, but Thursday linked up long-term with his present club.

Nainggolan, 29, signed a new deal with AS Roma through the 2020-21 season, putting the Belgian box-to-box mid at the heart of i Lupi‘s plans to chase down Juventus.

[ MORE: Chatting with De Rossi ]

Nainggolan has been in the last two Serie A Best XIs.

The 29-times capped Belgian has six goals for his national team, and has 255 Serie A appearances between Cagliari and Roma. Nainggolan has 31 goals and 18 assists in those matches, scooping 62 yellows and two send-offs but never being handed straight red.

While it’s a perceived blow for his Premier League suitors, it’s a welcome retention for Roma. He’s arguably the reason Roma was ready to part with Michael Bradley in 2014, and you can see why: He plays right up to the line but knows right where it lies.

Too many fans: Udinese vs. Hannover friendly called off

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ST. VEIT, Austria (AP) Local authorities in southern Austria have called off Sunday’s friendly match between Udinese and Hannover as the estimated number of spectators exceeds the capacity of the stadium.

The city of St. Veit says about 4,000 fans, including 280 potential football hooligans, were expected for the game at the ground of local amateur club FC Alpe Adria, which has a capacity of 2,430.

St. Veit mayor Gerhard Mock says “it’s a shame … but security comes first.”

It’s not immediately clear whether the match between the Italian and German top-flight teams can be moved to a larger venue. Both Udinese and Hannover are having their preseason training camps in the province of Carinthia.

LIVE – Everton kick off Europa League campaign

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Wayne Rooney will play his first competitive game for Everton in 13 years.

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That storyline will dominate Everton’s return to Europe as they kick off their 2017-18 UEFA Europa League campaign in front of a packed house at Goodison Park on Thursday.

The Toffees welcome Slovakian side MFK Ruzomberok for the first leg of the third qualifying round as they aim to make it back to the group stage for the first time since 2014-15.

Click on the link above to follow not only Everton’s game but all of the Europa League qualifiers going on across Europe this afternoon with the likes of AC Milan, Fenerbache, PSV, Marseille and Athletic Bilbao all in action.

If Ronald Koeman‘s side successfully navigate their way past Ruzomberok then they will be in the play-off round which is the final hurdle before the group stage.